- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 26, 2012

When it comes to tailoring his message, Mitt Romney has adopted a one-size-fits-all philosophy: There’s little that his economic message can’t do.

As the presumptive Republican presidential nominee seeks to push back against President Obama’s support among women, Hispanics and young voters, Mr. Romney in each case has argued that the current administration has failed to produce jobs for them — and he vows to do better.

He also has tacked to the political middle, urging Republicans in Congress to extend student-loan subsidies, announcing support for extending the Violence Against Women Act and signaling that he is open to an immigration solution that could legalize some immigrant youths.

Republicans said Mr. Romney wants to keep the focus on his economic criticism of Mr. Obama.

“From the beginning of his campaign, he has been trying to make the case that he is the best person to deal with the economic challenges that we are facing,” said Jeff Frederick, former chairman of the Virginia Republican Party. “He doesn’t want to talk about Obamacare, abortion or just about any other issue. His strong suit is the economy, and it just so happens to be that it is the biggest thing facing the country at this moment.”

Mr. Romney, though, faces an uphill battle if he hopes to make inroads with Hispanics, women and college-age voters. The three groups backed Mr. Obama by solid margins in 2008, and polls show they continue to support him.

Some women were annoyed with the way Republicans handled the recent flap over a contraception mandate on Capitol Hill, while some Hispanics are put off by the hard-line stance Mr. Romney staked out on immigration in the GOP primaries, and some college-age voters are growing more confident in Mr. Obama’s performance.

Romney will have a hard time Etch-a-Sketching away the extreme positions and policies he’s embraced,” said Kara Carscaden, a spokeswoman for the Obama campaign. “Romney vowed to veto the Dream Act and repeal Obamacare, which would roll back free preventative screenings and let insurance companies deny coverage for kids with pre-existing conditions. Romney has praised the Republican budget that makes college less affordable and refuses to say if he would have signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. His support of these policies and others like them tell Americans more about Romney’s priorities than he can explain away.”

But the president also faces some hurdles with certain groups of voters.

Polls show young voters have become more disillusioned with the political system since 2008 and could sit out the election this fall. Some Hispanics disapprove of Mr. Obama’s record pace of deportations.

Voters of all stripes, meanwhile, say the economy and job growth are their top priorities — a political reality that the Romney team sees as the key to its 2012 message: The former Massachusetts governor is better equipped than Mr. Obama to get people back to work.

“The pivot to the general election definitely allows Gov. Romney to focus the race on the economy, by far his greatest strength and certainly a major weakness for President Obama,” said Brian Nick, a GOP strategist. “The more Gov. Romney offers himself as a contrast with President Obama on economic terms, the more the key voting blocs that will decide this election will see Gov. Romney as the clear choice to restore America’s economic greatness.”

More than anything else, Mr. Romney has used his economic appeal as a way of trying to blunt Mr. Obama’s moves over the past month.

When Democrats accused the GOP of waging a “war on women,” Mr. Romney replied with statistics that women accounted for more than 92 percent of jobs lost since Mr. Obama took office in 2009.

Ten days later, as Mr. Obama’s campaign was announcing his Hispanic outreach program, Mr. Romney argued that nearly 300,000 Hispanics have lost jobs under the current administration. After Mr. Obama made the rounds of college campuses this week, arguing for extending the government’s student-loan subsidies program, Mr. Romney’s campaign said unemployed and underemployed young voters have soured on the president.

“It’s clear that enthusiasm for President Obama is down sharply among young Americans,” said Amanda Henneberg, a Romney campaign spokeswoman. “With one of every two recent college graduates unemployed or underemployed, President Obama won’t be able to skate by on empty rhetoric and campaign promises. He’ll have to run on his failed record of high unemployment, skyrocketing gas prices and mountains of new debt.”

Mr. Romney has his own youth outreach event slated for Friday in Ohio.

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